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IOWA CITY — At the same time as Saturday’s Miami (Ohio)-Iowa game on ESPNU, LSU is playing Wisconsin on ABC.
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 267 times. Why can’t Iowa play a nonconference game like that?
It can. But it won’t. The Hawkeyes now have three nonconference games per year instead of four. One is locked in against Iowa State and is in Ames every other year. Which means the other two will be against the Miamis of the world. That is, the Miamis of Ohio, not Florida.
Iowa plays Wyoming and North Texas in Kinnick Stadium next year. They were a combined 3-21 last season. Northern Illinois comes to town in 2018 and 2020. Miami (Ohio) returns in ’19.
All together now: Yawn.
This isn’t just an Iowa thing, of course. We’ve long seen games like that on almost everyone’s schedules. Murray State, Eastern Kentucky, Hawaii and Howard play in Big Ten stadiums today.
But this first weekend of the season has several excellent matchups nationally. The hunger is for Iowa to play similar September games against teams whose pedigrees don’t come with apologies attached.
The Hawkeyes had four such games between 2008 and last year when they had two home-and-aways with Pittsburgh, a football program with an all-time winning percentage of .575.
Iowa won three of those four meetings. All were decided by four points or less. Last year’s clash was one of the most-entertaining games Kinnick Stadium has hosted in the last decade, and the finish will forever be one of the stadium’s most-memorable.
There will be no more Pitts on the Hawkeyes’ slate for the unforeseeable future. It’s Iowa State, a series that isn’t going away nor should it, and two games the Hawkeyes will schedule to win to make their final records look more pleasing.
When asked this week why Iowa makes the nonconference scheduling choices it does, Coach Kirk Ferentz said this:
“You know, we’ve got 12 games scheduled. We play in a really good conference. My guess is we’re going to — every one of the 12 games will be challenging.
“Just look back last year. We were relaxed in one game in the fourth-quarter a little bit, but after that it’s college football. So to count on games like that, that’s still iffy. … If they happen, great, but you’d better expect a real battle, and I think you just have to look historically, it’s kind of the nature of football as you look around.”
A more-concise response would have been “We’re not a blow-you-out kind of a program. So we’ll keep minimizing risks as best we can and scheduling ourselves a couple of wins each year before the hard Big Ten slog. Thanks for asking.”
Wisconsin has a different approach. UW athletic director Barry Alvarez has no reason to let fear creep into his football scheduling because the Badgers have three Rose Bowl wins in the last 22 years, all with Alvarez as coach.
They don’t mind challenges, and they certainly don’t mind the attention that comes with a season-opener like today’s in Green Bay.
They also don’t play a Wisconsin State from another Power Five conference every year to chew up one of their nonconference dates. Nor does anyone else in the Big Ten.
On Sept. 17 alone, Ohio State plays at Oklahoma, Michigan State is at Notre Dame, and Oregon is at Nebraska. If those three Big Ten teams had automatic nonconference games against Ohio A&M, Michigan International and Nebraska Tech, those marquee games probably wouldn’t have been scheduled.
Or, those programs would have the approach that they still want those national games and are willing to risk losing because of the big spotlight and the potential reward of beating someone who matters in front of the world. That isn’t Iowa’s attitude.
“You know, we’ll get plenty of excitement all season long,” Ferentz said.
But if any of it comes Saturday, something has gone horribly wrong for the Hawkeyes.